Office of Human Resources                                                                                       March 2013



 Your Source for University Human Resources News and Information

Learning About Your Educational Assistance Benefits


Please join us for two informative seminars explaining the NU Tuition Benefit Plans available to NU faculty and staff.  We will provide plan information and answer your questions regarding our 4 Tuition Benefit Plans (Employee Reduced, Employee Portable, Dependent Reduced and Dependent Portable).  Come and learn about these extremely beneficial plans designed to help with college costs for yourself and your dependents. 


Chicago campus

Wednesday, March 6th

12:30 - 1:30 pm

Feinberg School of Medicine - Lurie - Gray Seminar Room

Evanston campus

Thursday, March 7th


Norris University Center - Arch Room 206

Inside This Issue
Learning and Organization Development
Work/Life Resources
Upcoming Events
Quick Links

Conducting Reference Checks


As a hiring manager, nothing is more important than ensuring you are hiring the best possible talent for your team. One of the simplest but most powerful tools available to support you in this effort is the reference checking process. Conducting reference checks can provide you with valuable information on a candidate's past performance and substantiate that you are making the right decision. In other cases, it can keep you from making a bad hiring decision, as well as save you time during the hiring process.


What the references say, as well as what they don't say, can be telling. Pay particular attention to the tone of the conversation and how the individual responds to your questions. If there is a particular competency that is critical for success, a reference check is the perfect place to focus on this to gather more information. Make sure the reference provides complete and detailed responses. If one word answers are provided, ask the person to expand on their response or provide more details. Conducting reference checks is also a good way to confirm information that has been listed on the application and resume, such as the duration of employment at a particular company, job duties, and salary history.


Northwestern requires a minimum of two professional reference checks once a final candidate has been identified and prior to an offer being extended. Normally, one of these references should include the current supervisor or, if the individual is not currently employed, the most recent past supervisor. The Staffing Team is trained in conducting reference checks and will work with you to complete these once you have identified a final candidate.


If you have questions regarding the University's reference check process for staff positions, or would like further information, please contact your department's Staffing Consultant.


Background Checks & DCFS Mandatory Reporting Required for Individuals Starting in New Staff Positions and All Temporary Positions


Northwestern University is committed to employing qualified talent and providing a safe environment for all employees and students. To more closely align our processes with this commitment, the University has implemented two processes for employees who are hired into open staff positions, including background checks and Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) mandatory reporting.  


With the background check process, individuals who have been selected as final candidates for staff positions must successfully complete a background check prior to beginning employment in their new position. Additionally, upon accepting the new position, these individuals must sign an acknowledgement of their status as a mandated reporter which indicates the employee understands that he or she is required to make a report to the Illinois DCFS Hotline whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be abused or neglected.


Both of these new processes apply to:  


  • Individuals who are new to the University in staff positions.  
  • Existing staff employees who transfer or who are promoted into a new position.
  • Temporary employees. Please note this includes temporary employees hired through Northwestern's Temporary Staffing Center, as well as those hired directly by Northwestern departments. Any individuals who have not yet completed a background check and DCFS Mandatory Reporter form will be contacted by the Temporary Staffing Center and will be required to do so in order to continue temporary employment. 


This is an important process in ensuring Northwestern hires the highest caliber of talent while maintaining the security of its people, property, and information. If you have any questions regarding this process and you are a regular staff employee, please contact your Staffing Consultant. For help in identifying your Staffing Consultant, please contact the Office of Human Resources at (847) 491-7507 (Evanston) or (312) 503-8481 (Chicago). Temporary employees should contact the Temporary Staffing Center at (847) 467-1048 (Evanston) or (312) 503-1234 (Chicago).



Email Etiquette in the Workplace


Email has become increasingly important as a tool to conduct our daily business and it is integral to our ability to successfully communicate with our colleagues, customers, and other partners around the campus and globe. However, it is often far too easy to hit the "Send" button without giving adequate consideration to the audience and the message we are trying to convey. As with any form of communication, it is important that our email correspondence is clear, concise, and organized. Below are a number of tips for writing professional and polished email messages:

  • Use a descriptive subject line that conveys the topic and purpose of your email message. It may also be helpful to include information such as "No reply needed" or "Action required" in the subject line to help your recipients prioritize their incoming messages.
  • Just as you wouldn't write a business letter without a greeting, include a salutation such as "Dear Mr. Doe" or "Hi John" in your email. Be sure to use the appropriate level of formality in your greeting and double-check that you have spelled the recipient's name correctly.
  • Because it's easy to lose sight of an email's purpose when it becomes too long, your message should be succinct. Indicate in the opening of the message why you are writing and then provide additional detail, if necessary, to help explain. Paragraphs should be short and separated with blank lines.
  • It is important to use proper grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and sentence structure in your email. Carefully proofread your message before sending it and be cognizant of its overall tone and how this will be perceived by the recipient. While it's acceptable to be casual at times, you don't want to be careless in your writing.
  • Include a closing in your email that is consistent with its overall level of formality, such as "Best regards" or "Thanks". Include a signature with your contact information so that recipients know how to get in touch with you by other methods, if needed.
  • Remember not to overuse the "Cc:" field, "Reply All", and the "High Priority" flag. Before sending an email, ask yourself, "Does everyone I've included on this email need this information?" and "Is this really urgent?"
  • Keep in mind, if a topic is particularly confusing, emotional, or requires significant interaction, then another form of communication may be more appropriate. Don't use email simply to avoid having a tough conversation.

Think of your email no differently than if you were writing a letter on University stationery. If it's not something you would put down on paper, don't hit the "Send" button.


Learning & Organization Development

The Northwestern University Learning & Organization Development (L&OD) team collaborates with faculty and staff who want to develop their talent and advance their workplace outcomes, processes and engagement. L&OD provides consulting, coaching, workshops, retreats and tools for individuals, groups and organizations.


Workshop Offers Tools for Talking When Emotions and Stakes are High


Whether it's a difference of opinion, strong emotions or high stakes, crucial conversations take place every day in our work. Many of the common problems that can hinder a team's success stem from conversations that are either not being handled-or not being handled well.


To increase your skill in holding difficult conversations with your staff, peers or manager, we encourage you to consider attending an upcoming session of the Crucial Conversations� two-day workshop. This practical and powerful workshop provides the tools for you to:

  • Speak persuasively not abrasively, no matter the topic
  • Make it safe for others to share their honest opinions
  • Gain control of your own emotional responses
  • Influence without exerting force
  • Improve teamwork, productivity and effectiveness

Workshop participants receive the New York Times bestselling book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High and several practical resources for future success, including a six-CD audio companion and a toolkit.


HRD960: Crucial Conversations�

March 13 & 20 - Evanston

April 9 & 16 - Chicago



L&OD offers a variety of workshops and additional opportunities to help improve workplace performance. Check them out!

Follow our Twitter feed to get L&OD's best picks of upcoming events and learning resources.

Questions? Comments? Contact the L&OD team at or 847-467-5081.

Work/Life Resources

Today's real estate market can be challenging to navigate. Purchasing a home is a significant life event and the process can be challenging and time consuming. While preparing for homeownership, keep these essential tips from REALTOR magazine in mind:

  1. Decide what you can afford. Generally, you can afford a home equal in value to between two and three times your gross income.
  2. Develop your home wish list. Then, prioritize the features on your list.
  3. Select where you want to live. Compile a list of three or four neighborhoods you'd like to live in, taking into account items such as schools, recreational facilities, area expansion plans, and safety.
  4. Start saving. Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment? Ideally, you should have 20 percent of the purchase price saved as a down payment. Also, don't forget to factor in closing costs - including taxes, attorney's fee, and transfer fees - average between 2 and 7 percent of the home price.
  5. Get your credit in order. Obtain a copy of your credit report to make sure it is accurate and to correct any errors immediately.
  6. Determine your mortgage qualifications. How large a mortgage do you qualify for? Also, explore different loan options - such as 30-year or 15-year fixed mortgages or ARMs - and decide what's best for you.
  7. Get preapproved. Organize all of the documentation a lender will need to preapprove you for a loan. You might need W-2 forms, copies of at least one pay stub, account numbers, and copies of two to four months of bank or credit union statements.
  8. Weigh other sources of help with a down payment. Do you qualify for any special mortgage or down payment assistance programs? Check with your state and local government on down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers. Or, if you have an IRA account, you can use the money you've saved to buy your fist home without paying a penalty for early withdrawal.
  9. Calculate the costs of homeownership. This should include property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities, and association fees, if applicable.
  10. Contact an experienced realtor who can help you through the process.


Are you interested in living in Evanston? Through Northwestern University's Employer Assisted Housing Program (EAH), you may be eligible to receive financial assistance for the purchase of a Live Evanston home. Live Evanston is a City of Evanston initiative that makes attractive, quality homes and condos affordable for moderate income families. Northwestern University is offering an EAH program to help eligible faculty and staff take advantage of Live Evanston. Learn more here!


Purchasing a home can be confusing and it is often difficult to connect all the different aspects of the process. Our upcoming workshop has been designed for those who are interested in buying and/or selling a house, condo or investment property. Information will be provided about: selecting a Real Estate broker; finding current financing and mortgage information; and, learning the legal issues involved in Real Estate transactions. Expertise will be provided by real estate brokers, mortgage bankers from Harris Bank, First Bank and Trust, and First Northern Credit Union plus an attorney specializing in Real Estate law.


Finding Reality In the Real Estate Market

Chicago: Wednesday, March 13th, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Lurie Research Center, Gray Seminar Room

Evanston: Thursday, March 14th, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Norris Center, Rock Room

Please contact Phyllis Ellis at 7-1460 to register for this workshop.



The University Children's Center is waiving the registration fee for the month of March! UCC invites you to come meet our teachers and see all the ways we can help your child explore, learn, and grow. Whether your child has first words or first grade on the horizon, University Children's Center families find our classrooms and activities help boost school success. As a bonus, our great location means your child is always close at hand. UCC is currently enrolling, so secure your space now!


Now Enrolling! Call for tuition & enrollment options!


Speech and Language Summer Camp

Northwestern University, Evanston Campus

Offering children with a range of speech and language needs a therapeutic - and fun - summer experience!


July 1 - August 14


Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs

9:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.


EXPLORERS (ages 5-7)


1:30 - 3:30 p.m.


Camp Highlights

  • Indoor and outdoor play, local outings, parades, fire truck visits, special camp t-shirt and more!
  • Excellent child:adult ratio
  • IEP/current goals can be targeted all summer
  • Peer models welcome at a discounted rate. Call for details.

The Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic merges university research and innovative teaching with clinical services. Experts in the field - faculty who are nationally certified and state licensed speech-language pathologists - direct clinical provisions, bringing exceptional knowledge and experience to our clients.


The camp is located on the Evanston Campus in the Speech, Language, and Learning Clinic in The Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, School of Communication.


For more information, call Camp Director Tracy Killian, MS CCC/SLP at 847-491-2410 or visit  

Speech and Language Summer Camp


Next Month:
College Admissions Workshop


Chicago: Tuesday, April 16th 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Lurie Research Center, Gray Room

Evanston: Wednesday, April 17th 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Norris Center, Arch Room

Join Members of Northwestern's Office of Admissions & The Office of Financial Aid as they discuss: approaching the college search, creating a competitive application, and tips for the financial aid process.Please contact Phyllis Ellis at 7-1460 to register for this workshop


Flu Prevention Tips: click here for information provided by Perspectives to help prevent the spread of this season's flu.


Weight Watchers @ Work

Meetings are held every Thursday from 12:00 - 1:30 p.m. at the Searle Health Services Building, 3rd floor, room 220. New members can sign up through the NU Employee Portal at Weight Watcher's @ Work, ( employer ID:8908; employer passcode: WW8908 ). For more information, contact Tamara Rosner at or 1-2209.

Performance Excellence and Merit Planning


Performance Excellence


The Performance Excellence process begins in May of each year with setting goals, objectives and priorities and ends in April the following year with a final review of performance, accomplishments and employee development. The processis continuous and requires that managers and employees work together on a regular basis to ensure that communication remains open and expectations are well understood.  As the performance year is coming to a close, Managers and employees are encouraged to continue this important dialogue and begin thinking about the final step of completing the annual review.   This performance year, all staff will be evaluated using the seven-point rating scale.


Performance Excellence and Merit Increase Planning


The merit planning time frame is also fast approaching. Like most organizations Northwestern seeks to recognize and reward excellent performance and applies a pay for performance approach to granting merit increases. Does that mean that better performance results in higher pay? Yes, but not always a higher merit increase because several factors are considered in determining the amount of a merit increase. Primary considerations include the available budget, the individual performance and the current pay rate/level of the staff member.


Consider the example where two employees in the same department with similar levels of performance are eligible for an increase during merit planning. To determine the amount of increase to provide to each, a manager needs to consider the aforementioned factors (and any others that are relevant).

  • Consideration 1 - Budget
    Since the available budget is set at an organizational level, each staff member is potentially eligible for that amount. Remember this is a specific, finite amount of money allocated for merit increases.
  • Consideration 2 - Individual performance
    Each staff member received the same high performance excellence rating
  • Consideration 3 - Current pay rate of each individual
    One of the employees earns an annual salary that is near the lower end of the pay range for the position. That employee is potentially eligible for a larger increase than another employee who earns an annual salary that is near the top of the pay range for that position. This results in both employees earning a salary that is appropriate for the work they do and their level of performance.  However, both employees in this example will receive an increase greater than someone who is a poor performer.   
Reward and recognition, however can take many forms. Employees may be recognized for good performance via other means including promotions, increased opportunities to contribute to organizational success, assignment to special committees and so on.   For more information contact your School or Unit's Compensation Consultant.

NUSAC Brown Bag - Career Development: Strategies, Challenges and Managing Transitions


On February 19 and 20, NUSAC co-hosted Brown Bag Sessions with the Office of Human Resources focusing on career development. In this panel discussion, NU Human Resources and Staffing Consultants addressed a number of important topics including taking ownership of your career and professional development, utilizing the resources available at the University, and managing an employment search, interview and job transfer. There were a number of important "takeaways" for participants:


With regard to the "big picture" of career development:

  • You are the person responsible for your career development trajectory. Don't let others stand in the way of your goals and don't wait for others to make them happen for you.
  • If you have questions about job and professional development opportunities at NU, reach out to your Human Resources Consultant or Staffing Consultant who can walk you through the process and opportunities available.
  • Use the Performance Excellence process to have discussions with your manager about goals and career growth. There may be more opportunities within your current position than you realize. Work with your manager to identify mutual goals and directions for the future.
  • Make sure you know your strengths, interests, and areas for growth. Identify the things that are meaningful to you in your work and see how they match the long-term prospects for your current position or the position you are targeting.
  • Find out how others in the organization perceive you professionally. Seek feedback from your manager and peers.
  • As you consider your future career plans, set goals for yourself and seek out opportunities for professional development (workshops, courses, etc.) or additional responsibilities within your position that will help you grow and set you apart from others.

 If you are considering a position or career change:

  • Be sure to gather information about the career or position you are targeting.
    • Look carefully at position descriptions and minimum job requirements.
    • Conduct an informational interview, if possible.
  • Prepare a concise, yet detailed resume.
    • Resumes should be tailored to the position for which you are applying.
    • There is not a required length for a resume. Keep it to the point but be sure to cover the breadth and depth of your relevant experience.
  • Always write a cover letter.
    • The cover letter is your chance to highlight your skills, explain any gaps or possible questions others may have about your resume, and introduce yourself to the prospective employer. Cover letters are important to include, even as an internal candidate. NU often receives 100 or more applications for a position and a solid resume and cover letter help you stand out. Include your objective in the cover letter and a summary/profile section in the resume.
  • Dress professionally and prepare carefully for the interview.
    • It is better to overdress (you cannot go wrong with a suit) than to underdress. Professionalism is important.
    • Be prepared to ask questions about the organization/department. You need to demonstrate interest as well as determine your fit with the position.
    • Arrive early, be confident, and relax (the interviewer wants you to do well).
  • Be proactive in your communication with your manager about your career goals and, as much as possible, your job search. If you have questions about when and how to discuss your job search with your manager, talk with your Staffing Consultant.
  • Build a professional network, attend events and get involved.

For more information on career development and the various resources available at Northwestern University, visit the Careers section of the Office of Human Resources website at and the Workplace Learning section at


Two handouts were available at the Brown Bag sessions. You can access them here:

General questions on topics of interest to staff may be directed to NUSAC by e-mailing Or, find NUSAC online at  

Upcoming Events

2013 Northwestern Football

Show your Wildcat Pride for our student-athletes and Northwestern Football by becoming a season ticket holder this year and experience all the excitement of Chicago's Big Ten Team. Northwestern faculty and staff enjoy enhanced discounted pricing on season tickets. Save over 40% by purchasing your season ticket for $213 and receive benefits such as access to away game and bowl game tickets and the opportunity to purchase a season parking pass.


Order today by calling 888-GO-PURPLE (467-8775) or visit NUSPORTS.COM  



Sept. 7 vs. Syracuse

Sept. 14 vs. Western Michigan

Sept. 21 vs. Maine

Oct. 5 vs. Ohio State 

Oct. 19 vs. Minnesota

Nov. 16 vs. Michigan

Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State